The fruit is a fresh quince. It was early Fall in New York and I noticed them for sale at a nearby market, so I bought a couple, if only to record it for this blog and its readers. Quince (Cydonia oblonga) is an almost pear-like looking fruit but with a skin color that is reminiscent of a golden delicious apple (and I gather the looks and shades can vary). It was once EXTREMELY common in parts of the Middle East and Southern Europe, as well as the continental United States. Elizabeth Schneider, in her brilliant book Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables describes it as having a “penetrating perfume, musky-wild as a tropical fruit, reminiscent of pineapple, guava, Bartlett pear, and apple…” Today, it is much harder to find quince, and even for me, I only know it as the main ingredient in membrillo, that wonderful Spanish paste/solid jelly that one slathers on bread and topped with its life partner an aged manchego cheese. It’s no wonder that my version of grainy guava jam, which struck me as a close contender for a Pinoy membrillo fake-out, was likewise delicious when paired with queso de bola and crackers…
I assumed you could eat it raw, like an apple, but was told they have to be cooked to be edible. It was/is predominantly used in preserves, as its concentration of pectin makes it the perfect fruit to store for the long term in the form of jam, jelly, candy, and marmalade. The latter apparently “from the Portuguese word for quince, marmelo” also according to Ms. Schneider. But this last tidbit caught my attention, as I had always assumed that marmalade referred primarily to preserves made from citrus rinds… and hence what was supposed to be this quick post led from one thing to another in search of the root of the term “marmalade.” This seemed particularly appropriate as had just done the previous post with comments and references to kalamansi marmalade.
Alan Davidson’s wonderful book The Oxford Companion to Food seems to explain it well. And he credits the story of evolution from marmalada to marmalade, from predominantly quince to bitter oranges to C. Anne Wilson. Apparently marmalada was the portuguese name for the quince paste, which is a very firm jelly-like spread that could last for months on end… the texture arising from the naturally high pectin content of quince. It was such a prized delicacy that the British imported it in significant quantities in the late 1400′s. They continued to be refer to this as marmalada and later the english term “marmalade” through the 17th century. At about this time, a preserve made from citrus, more specifically oranges, became popular and were likewise called marmalades, as were thick concotions of other fruits that likewise could be sliced with a knife, so there were lots of types of marmalades until this point in time. In the 18th century, most likely in Scotland, the precursor of orange marmalade as we know it today became rather popular, and the term marmalade would from then on refer to predominantly citrus based, high-pectin preserves. Marmalade (particularly orange) soon became synonymous with a classic and rather uppercrust proper English breakfast, whether you were in your castle or a functionary at the small British outpost in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is this latter, and now classic use of the term marmalade that I refer to when I named my own kalamansi concoction a marmalade.
To make sure I didn’t miss anything else that might be of interest, I also quickly glanced through Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking (The Science and Lore of the Kitchen), and found this one tidbit for those who are interested in trivia… I quote: “The 16th century alchemist and confectioner Nostradamus gave several recipes for quince preserves… and observed that cooks who peel them (before cooking) don’t know why they do this, for the skin augments the odor.” I didn’t know Nostradamus was a confectioner! And finally, from the very modern book The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves by Linda Ziedrich, she says, of marmalades: “Jelly, usually soft and clear, in which are suspended pieces of fruit or citrus peel or both. Marmalade is often made entirely with citrus fruit. Because of the inclusion of the peel, citrus marmalades are usually bitter in flavor.”
In the rush to pack and get back home to Manila, I forgot to bring the quince fruit home with me… so I never got a chance to try and cook with it. The quince in the photo above rests on a fabulous silver tray, courtesy of Sister’s collection. :)